In Adam Basanta’s “A Truly Magical Moment” (2016), two iPhones face each other on selfie sticks. A user, in the gallery or anywhere in the world, can call each phone and the two phones begin spinning in a fast-paced and unsettling remote video chat. This renders the user as both the perceiving and perceived object. The work, Surface Tension by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (1992), presents a large eye previously recorded so that it tracks and follows the audience’s movement and moves accordingly. These types of aesthetic experiences offered by interactive media art seek to uncover “the structures and control mechanisms used in digital media” (Kwastek 2013:55) and force us to consider the mechanical infrastructures of communication more broadly. These works, among the others presented in the “Witness” exhibit (Joyce and Duggan 2016), inspire us to re-evaluate our identities and society, and to reflect on the intended purposes of these everyday surveillance and its impacts. Unlike the National Security Agency (NSA) who often uses the seemingly impossible technologies to monitor citizens home and abroad 24/7 (Vinson and Ross 2001), the artworks presented in the Witness exhibit aim to deliver this message of warning or question to us through the most commonly known technologies, such as computer vision, light reflection, video chat, and security cameras.
As of August 2013, there are more than 500 million Tweets posted a day, which is nearly 5,700 Tweets per second (Krikorian 2016). “Sentinel 002” is designed to imitate a well-developed AI retrieving a great number of public tweets from Twitter by analyzing their sentiments, emotions, and public reactions from the comments and retweets. It does not only analyze the entries themselves, but tries to find the connection between entries using a complex machine-learning algorithm. “Sentinel #002” is equipped with neural networks that enable it to think and to make judgments like a human being – but faster. Conceptualized as a technologically advanced AI, “Sentinel #002” employs the state-of-the-art cognitive systems to archive, monitor, and analyze people’s contents, records, and behaviours on all social media websites. With hundreds of data centres envisioned as part of its distributed surveillance system, “Sentinel #002” could keep watch on the public opinions and records globally.
The zine designed for “Sentinel #002” represents a summary report based on the results from this prototype. One of the charts, for example, shows the global emotion in 2016 based on big data retrieved and analyzed by “Sentinel #002”. It shows that fear is the dominant emotion this year. How would you tweet if you knew the machine was watching you?
- Xavier Wu, 2017